Great Britain and France sign a Secret Wartime Agreement (May 16, 1916) - History Key

Great Britain and France sign a Secret Wartime Agreement (May 16, 1916)

Officially known as The Sykes-Picot Agreement or The Asia Minor Agreement, was a secret document signed by Great Britain and France with the “approval” of the Russian Empire. The agreement established who and what territories will be controlled over the areas from the Ottoman Empire, also known as the “Sick Man of Europe”. The negotiations began in November 1915 and lasted until March 1916. On May 16, 1916 it was signed and one and a half years later it was exposed to the public.

Strategic Territories

 Sir Mark Sykes, 6th Baronet (1879-1919)

Sir Mark Sykes, 6th Baronet (1879-1919) ©Image Source: Wikipedia

Great Britain was represented by Mark Sykes a Parliament member while France was represented by Francois Georges-Picot a diplomat and lawyer. As goes for the territories, the agreement divided the Middle East into two, according to a straight line:

      Great Britain: control over the territories that now are largely found in Jordan, southern Iraq, some parts of Palestine, Haifa Bay to secure access to the Mediterranean Sea

      France: control over the territories of South-East Turkey, northern Iraq, Syria and Lebanon

      Russia: Constantinople, the Turkish Straits and the remaining part of Armenia

The dividing line had no logic. It was “a line on the sand”. However, from a political view, it was very logical. For the English it was a perfect settlement to avoid French’s attempt to come to the holy cities, Medina and Mecca. Back then, Great Britain considered itself the greatest power in Muslim world. On the other hand, French had an important Muslim population, but they were vaguely convinced that they could control their territories having only Damascus.

The British wanted to establish a route from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf with the removal of the French from what today is Saudi Arabia, the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. This route was the passageway for India, in important part from the British Empire. Basically, the dividing line had a simple idea: to connect important parts of the British Empire.

Map of Sykes–Picot Agreement showing Eastern Turkey in Asia, Syria and Western Persia, and areas of control and influence agreed between the British and the French. Royal Geographical Society, 1910-15. Signed by Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, 8 May 1916
Map of Sykes–Picot Agreement showing Eastern Turkey in Asia, Syria and Western Persia, and areas of control and influence agreed between the British and the French. Royal Geographical Society, 1910-15. Signed by Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot, 8 May 1916 © Image Source: Wikipedia

Oil and Israel

Lloyd George ©Image Source: Wikipedia

Later on, the British realized that there were important oil deposits at the north of the line. They considered that in the case of another war, they will not need the American’s help, so they had to secure their oil supplies, especially in Iraq. After the war, the negotiations resumed. Lloyd George meet with Clemenceau in order to redefine the boundaries after the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Therefore, George gave Mosul and Palestine to receive Alsace-Lorraine.

As for the Jews, we must place ourselves in that age: imperialism was strongly criticized especially by the United States. Therefore, the British wanted to stop the American interference and approached the Zionists, promising them Palestine. They wanted the creation of a Jewish state and under a British influence. The new state could be a problem for the ambition of the French and Americans.

Map of Sykes–Picot Agreement, 8 May 1916
Map of Sykes–Picot Agreement, 8 May 1916 © British Library/ Image Source: Reddit

Consequences

At a distance of 100 years, the states born after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire are bankrupt, hostage to regimes that bring community and are surrounded by jihadist groups that are promoting a new political order. After 100 years, the Sykes-Picot Agreement still haunts the spirits of the Middle East population. The exchange of letters between the two diplomats profoundly altered and materialized the Middle East. In other words, it had major consequences of the evolution in the last century. For reasons of strategic rivalry, the two great powers back then have created more or less artificial states without taking in consideration the history of those territories.

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